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Maqtal by Khwarazmi

Documenting incidents of war is not just recording history or compiling events but depicting an important (Islamic) event, every moment of it, and unraveling its ideological, ethical, political and social nuances.

Narrating war stories is a medium and a tool to benefit from the actions of the martyrs, martyrdom itself and to channelise emotions. It is a mirror which calls to mind the love and recognition that came into existence at a special time, place, people as well as special conditions. People of all eras witness the emotions in this mirror. It is not just about narrating events but an exegesis of signs of ‘faith’, ‘love’ and ‘sacrifice’ which were manifested on the lofty skies of Aashura in the holy land of Karbala and became a foundation for existence of the luminescent verses of Quran.

Documented war incidents are ‘clear and true witnesses’ to prove the truthfulness and steadfastness of those who considered the words of the ‘Chief of Martyrs’ as good fortune and regarded life under despotic rulers as nothing except humiliation and devastation. In the words of Imam Husain (peace be upon him):

Surely, I do not see death but as good fortune and living among the oppressors as nothing except devastation.”

[Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 45, p. 381]

Imam Husain (peace be upon him) said:

Your debased life under the rule of a tyrant and oppressor is death in reality and an honourable death in the reign of a tyrant is true life.”

[Manaaqebo Aale Abi Taalib (peace be upon them), vol. 3, p. 127]

Recording war events is also akin to a lantern, which is raised to illuminate and guide humanity and help differentiate between good and evil, truth and falsehood and faith and disbelief. It helps in clearly distinguishing true devotees of religion from followers of Satan, true Imams from usurpers of Caliphate and advocators of justice from pure-play politicians.


Martyrdom requires a documented proof. The martyrdom, biography and sacrifices of all Imams also need a book. Numerous books have been written on their life but they cannot be called Maqtal even though they have all been killed and martyred. Only the events around the martyrdom of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and his companions in Karbala have been termed as Maqtal. Many have authored books describing the event of Karbala in the past and books on this topic are still being penned.

The oppression upon Imam Husain (peace be upon him) is different from every tyranny. All Imams (peace be upon him) were aware of their martyrdom and martyrdom of other Imams. Hence, Imam Hasan Mujtaba (peace be upon him) narrates the calamity of his brother in the following words:

There is no day like your day (of Aashura), O Aba Abdillah!

[Al-Amaali by Shaikh Saduq (a.r.), p. 116; Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 45, p. 218]

In short the massacre on the day of Aashura is unparalleled. This is probably the reason that books written on this event are called as Maqtal.

  • Angels lament on Imam Husain (peace be upon him) in the sky; hooris and birds weep over him in the earth and sky.
  • Imam Sajjaad (peace be upon him) spent his entire life remembering Karbala. He never drank water without remembering the hardships of Aashura.

[Kaamil al-Ziyaaraat, p. 175; Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 46, p. 108]

  • Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) used to be engulfed in sorrow during Muharram. He would abandon smile and joy, be mournful on the day of Aashura and recite Majlis of his grandfather.
  • Imam Reza (peace be upon him) used to mourn for his grandfather and termed the day of Aashura as the day which has caused our blood to flow profusely and has made us sob bitterly.

[Al-Amaali by Shaikh Saduq (a.r.) p. 128; Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 44, p. 284]

  • Imam Zamaana (may Allah hasten his reappearance) mourns day and night and sheds tears of blood.

[Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 98, p. 320]

Is it appropriate that a Shia forsakes mourning and lamenting and does not shed tears on his master Imam Husain (peace be upon him)? The intensity of the martyrdom of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) has been infused in the hearts of believers.

[Mustadrak al-Wasaael, vol. 10, p. 318]

All types of mourning and weeping have been rebuked but mourning and lamenting upon Imam Husain (peace be upon him) earns goodness. [As per tradition of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) narrated in Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 44, p. 280 & 291]

In summary, all our Imams (peace be upon him) wept on the oppression upon Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and the earth, sky, angels, Jinn, animals and birds all have shed tears on the atrocities upon Imam Husain (peace be upon him). These events are documented and termed as Maqtal.

First Book of Maqtal

The first Maqtal was documented either by Abul Qasim Asbagh Ibn Nubaatah or in the era of Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) by ‘Abu Makhnaf’.

[Sehaabe Rehmat by Abbas Ismail Yazdi, Foreword, p. 25]

Post that, many books were written on this topic but with the progress of time they disappeared and now only their names along with their authors are found in the books of Rejaal. The first Persian Maqtal was written in the 4th century A.H. by ‘Abu Ali Muhammad Bal’ami’. Actually, this book is an explanation of ‘Tareekh Tabari’ and became famous as ‘Tareekh Bal’ami’.

[Sehaabe Rehmat by Abbas Ismail Yazdi, Foreword, p. 25]

It is worth mentioning that even Ahle Tasannun have written books on Maqtal of which more than ten are very famous. The foremost among them was ‘Maqtal al-Husain’ by ‘Abu Muwayyid Akhtab Khwarazmi’ written in the 4th century A.H.

Sources of Maqtal

A Maqtal is documented based on various references along with its sources. Mentioned below are some important sources and references:

  1. Traditions that have been narrated by Imams (peace be upon him) concerning this topic
  2. The sufferings that have been mentioned in the sermons of Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) and Ahle Bait (peace be upon them)
  3. Those in the enemy army viz. Hamid Ibn Muslim and Bilal Ibn Nafe’ who could not remain silent on the atrocities and sufferings of Ahle Bait (peace be upon him) and narrated the incident as is
  4. Those who were neither in the army of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) nor with the enemy but perhaps they were reliable and would have narrated many incidents

After this brief introduction, let us proceed to our topic of discussion i.e. ‘Maqtal by Khwarazmi’. This book can be introduced from two aspects:

  1. Introduction of the author
  2. Brief discussion about the chapters of the book

The knowledge and teachings of Ahle Bait (peace be upon them), biography of Imams (peace be upon him), beliefs of Imamate and Caliphate, every bit of it, have reached us through Imams (peace be upon him) and righteous scholars. We present the conditions of Khwarazmi and his intellectual contributions from the book Al-Ghadeer, vol.4, pp. 340-349 by Allamah Amini (r.a.) because he documented it after extensive research and analysis. Even though Allamah Amini confirms him to be from the Ahle Tasannun followers of the Hanafi sect, he also acknowledged him as honest, reliable and fair.

Full Name

Hafiz Abul Muayyid Abu Muhammad Muwaffiquddin Ibn Ahmad Ibn Abi Saeed Ishaq Ibn Muayyid al-Makki al-Hanafi, famous as ‘Akhtab Khwarazmi’.

Birth and Residence

He was born in 484 A.H. and expired in 568 A.H. He travelled extensively to gather and memorize traditions. He stayed in Mecca also for some time but he became famous as ‘Khateeb Khwarazmi’ as he used to deliver sermons and lectures in the congregational mosque of Khwarazm. He stayed in this city till he breathed his last.

Religious Beliefs

He was not a Shia, but a Hanafi by practice. He has even written a book ‘Manaaqebo Abi Hanifa’. Some consider him to be ‘Motazeli’ but it is incorrect as ‘Rationalism’ is not found in his books. His love for Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and his holy progeny (peace be upon him) is quite evident but at the same time there is no doubt in him being a Hanafi and his faith is noticeable in his writings and has repeatedly tried to unite the two faiths. For instance, under the discussion of excellence of Ameerul Momineen (peace be upon him) he quotes Ayesha narrating from Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny): “Abu Bakr followed by Umar are the best (of people) after Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny).” Then Khwarazmi narrates that Hazrat Fatima (peace be upon her) questioned Ayesha as to why did Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) not include Ali (peace be upon him)? Ayesha replied: “Ali (peace be upon him) is the self of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). Have you seen anyone talking about himself?”

[Maqtal by Khwarazmi, vol. 1, chapter 4, p. 43]

Similarly, at another instance he narrates Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz who said: “I dreamt that Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman have entered paradise without any accounting. I asked Allah, where is Ali (peace be upon him). It was said that he is with the messengers and the truthful ones at a highest place. He then narrates that I saw Yazid (the accursed) in the fire of hell.”

Such narrations prove that Khwarazmi believed in the faith of the ‘Caliphs’ but also respected the elevated position of Ahle Bait (peace be upon them). Thus, many fabricated traditions are also found in his books. It is worth noting that his Maqtal bears similarities with the Maqtal by Syed Ibn Tawoos (a.r.) albeit with a few additions.

Introduction of the book ‘Maqtal al-Husain (peace be upon him)’

For the purpose of this article, we have referred to a copy of this book available in the library of Association of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance), Mumbai. The first two volumes are combined in one volume after research and analysis by Allamah Shaikh Muhammad Samawi by Maktab-e-Mufeed Publications Qom, Iran. This research and analysis was done in 1367 A.H. in Najaf al-Ashraf. The researcher quotes that when I began working on this book, its manuscript was not available in Iraq. Hence, I referred to Al-Ghadeer by Allamah Amini (r.a.) and returned after copying it. Allamah Samawi referred to Al-Ghadeer for the biography of Khwarazmi. We shall benefit from Al-Ghadeer to briefly look at the teachers, students and works of Khwarazmi first and then discuss the book Maqtal al-Husain (peace be upon him).

Teachers and Traditional Sources of Khwarazmi

Allamah Amini has enumerated 35 teachers. However, we shall mention only a few:

  1. He acquired knowledge and narrated traditions from Hafiz Najmuddin Umar Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Nasafi (died 537 A.H.)
  2. He learnt literature and traditions from Abul Qasim Sabaaullah Mahmood Ibn Umar Zamakshari (died 538 A.H.)
  3. Abul Hasan Ali Ibn Husain Ghaznavi famous as Burhaan (died 551 A.H.)
  4. Abul Faraj Shams al-Aimmah Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Makki who was his brother and is also mentioned in Maqtal. He has used the following titles in honour of his brother. Siraaj al-Deen, Rukn al-Islam, Shams al-Aimmah and Imam al-Haramain. He sourced traditions from his brother through dictations.

For the remaining list please refer Al-Ghadeer, vol. 4.

His Students

Mentioned below are some of his students:

  1. Burhaanuddeen Abul Makarim Naasir Ibn Abil Makarim, Abd al-Syed, Matarzi Khwarazmi Hanafi (538 A.H. to 610 A.H.)
  2. Muslim Ibn Ali Ibn Akht has narrated from Al-Manaaqeb by Khwarazmi
  3. Shaikh Abu Reza, Tahir Ibn Abil Makarim, Abd al-Syed Ibn Ali
  4. Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn Shahr Ashob, Sarwi, Mazandarani (died 588 A.H.) who corresponded with Khwarazmi
  5. Shaikh Abu Muhammad Abdullah Ibn Jafar Ibn Muhammad Husaini narrated the book Al-Manaaqeb from the author

His Works

Khwarazmi was an expert in the knowledge of jurisprudence, traditions, history, literature and various other fields and was quite popular in his lifetime. He has written many books, the famous ones that have reached us include:

  1. ‘Manaaqebo Imam Abi Hanifa’ published in two volumes in Hyderabad in 1321 A.H.
  2. Raddo Shams Baraae Ameeril Momineen Ali (peace be upon him). Abu Jafar Ibn Shahr Ashob has mentioned this book in his Al-Manaaqeb, vol. 1, p. 484.
  3. ‘Arbaeen’ about the virtues of the Noble Messenger (peace be upon him and his progeny) and Ameerul Momineen (peace be upon him). Khwarazmi himself has referred to this book in Maqtal and Ibn Shahr Ashob has narrated from this book.
  4. ‘Qazaaya Ameeril Momineen’. Ibn Shahr Ashob has mentioned this book in the 1st volume of Manaaqeb on page 484
  5. Compilation of poems (Deewaan). Chalpi has mentioned it in Kashf al-Zunoon, vol. 1, p. 524
  6. ‘Fazaaelo Ameeril Momineen’ famous as ‘Manaaqeb’ has been published in 1324 A.H.

Chain of Narrators

Allamah Amini says: I have found the chain of narrators from the Shia Alawi jurists of my era to Khwarazmi in the following order: Ayatullah Haaj Aqa Husain Qummi (died 14th Rabi al-Awwal 1466 A.H.) narrated from Allamah Syed Murtuza Kashmiri (died 1323 A.H.) from Syed Mahdi Qazvini (died 1300 A.H.) from his paternal uncle Syed Muhammad Baqir Ibn Ahmad Qazvini (died 1246 A.H.) from his maternal uncle Syed Muhammed Mahdi Bahr al-Uloom (died 1212 A.H.) from Ustad Akbar Bahbahani (died 1208 A.H.) from his father Akmal Bahbahani from Jamaluddin Khwansari (died 1125 A.H.) from Allamah Muhammad Taqi Majlisi (died 1070 A.H.) from Shaikh Jabir Ibn Abbas Najafi from Mohaqqiqe Karaki (martyred 940 A.H.) from Shaikh Zainuddin Ali Ibn Hilal Jazaeri from Abul Abbas Ahmad Ibn Fahd Hilli (died 841 A.H.) from Shaikh Sharafuddin Abu Abdillah Hilli Asadi from the great Shaheed al-Awwal (martyred in 786 A.H.) from Raziuddin Abul Hasan Ali Faridi al-Hilli (died 757 A.H.) from Ayatullah Allamah Hilli (died 726 A.H.) from Najibuddin Yahya Ibn Ahmad Hilli (died 689 A.H.) from Syed Abu Muhammad Abdullah Ibn Jafar Husaini and he narrated from Khwarazmi.

Allamah Hilli has quoted in another way: Burhaanuddin Abul Makarim Nasir Ibn Abil Makarim has narrated from Abul Muayyid Khwarazmi.

Allamah Amini has brought this chain based on its importance in the book ‘Manaaqebo Ameeril Momineen’ has mentioned about Ahle Tasannun scholars from the 7th till the 14th century who have narrated traditions from the aforementioned book.

Topics of Maqtal by Khwarazmi

Khwarazmi has divided this book into 2 volumes and 15 chapters. The details are as follows:

Volume One

  • First chapter: Few excellences of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny)
  • Second chapter: Excellences of Mother of Believers Janabe Khadija (peace be upon her)
  • Third chapter: Excellences of Janabe Fatima Binte Asad (peace be upon her)
  • Fourth chapter: Selected excellences of Ameerul Momineen Ali and his holy progeny (peace be upon them)
  • Fifth chapter: Excellences of Janabe Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her)
  • Sixth chapter: Excellences of Imam Hasan and Imam Husain (peace be upon them)
  • Seventh chapter: Special virtues of Imam Husain (peace be upon him)
  • Eight chapter: The prophecy of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) concerning the martyrdom of Imam Husain (peace be upon him)
  • Ninth chapter: Whatever occurred between Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and Waleed during the lifetime of Muawiyah and after his death
  • Tenth chapter: Imam Husain (peace be upon him) reaching Mecca and receiving letters from people of Kufa and martyrdom of Muslim Ibn Aqeel (peace be upon him)
  • Eleventh chapter: The incidents and events that took place during his journey from Mecca to Iraq till his martyrdom in Karbala.

Volume Two

  • Twelfth chapter: The killers of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and the fate of those who did not help him and condemnation and curse on his killers.
  • Thirteenth chapter: Remembrance of atrocities, mourning, lamenting and beating the chest.
  • Fourteenth chapter: Visiting his grave
  • Fifteenth chapter: Revolt of Mukhtar Saqafi and revenge from his killers.

Note: Even though Khwarazmi has named this book as Maqtal, two thirds of this book is not pertaining to the battle. In fact the first part contains virtues of Ahle Bait (peace be upon them), second part has events of Karbala and Martyrdom and third part has uprising of Mukhtar Saqafi and details of revenge from his killers. It is the 11th chapter of this book which can be truly termed as ‘Maqtal’.

Important Point

The major part of Imam Husain’s (peace be upon him) journey from Medina to Mecca and then from Mecca to Iraq and its events have been taken by Khwarazmi from ‘Taarikh Ibn A’tham Kufi’ and the events of the day of Aashura have been taken from ‘Maqtal by Abi Mikhnaf’. While other narrators and historians have also been mentioned, the prime sources are Ibn A’tham Kufi and Abu Mikhnaf. Another important point to note is that Khwarazmi has not narrated the text of Ibn A’tham Kufi in toto; he has made cosmetic changes.

Maqtal by Khwarazmi was written almost a century before the Maqtal by Syed Ibn Tawoos (a.r.) viz. ‘Luhoof’. Khwarazmi died in the year 568 A.H. while Syed Ibn Tawoos (a.r.) was born in the year 589 A.H. The most primary sources have been quoted in this book and since Khwarazmi was an Ahle Tasannun Hanafi, this book stands out. Shia scholars respect Khwarazmi as a writer. Ibn A’tham Kufi died in the year 314 A.H. and was a contemporary of famous historians like Tabari and Yaqoobi. Ibn A’tham was not a Shia but at the same time he was not a staunch Ahle Tasannun person like Ibn Saad, Ibn Katheer or even like the relatively moderate Tabari, for that matter. Since he was a Kufan, he was more inclined towards Ahle Bait (peace be upon them).

Chapter Eleven

As mentioned earlier that the 11th chapter of this book is based on actual events of the battle, hence we shall discuss about the topics in this chapter.

Imam Husain (peace be upon him) performed the circumambulation of Holy Kaaba on Tuesday 8th Zilhajj i.e. on the day of Tarweyah, then he performed Sa’ee of Safa and Marwa and left Mecca with 82 people which included his Shia, friends, well-wishers and Ahle Bait (peace be upon them). Here Khwarazmi has mentioned all those who came to meet Imam (peace be upon him) at this point and tried to stop him or proposed an alternate solution to him. Many articles on this topic can be found in earlier Al-Muntazar publications.

Then he has mentioned about the stages from Mecca to Karbala viz. Tan’eem, meeting Bushr Ibn Ghaalib at Zaat al-Arq, who was from the tribe of Bani Asad of Iraq, inquiring about the conditions of Iraq, meeting with Farazdaq and all such incidents en route to Karbala have been recorded by Khwarazmi. Thereafter, from the time Imam Husain (peace be upon him) reached Karbala on 2nd Muharram to his martyrdom has been chronicled as also the condition of the other martyrs. The sermons that Imam Husain (peace be upon him) delivered from the 2nd of Muharram to the eve of Aashura have also been recorded.

At the end of the article we shall mention a short incident which shows that those who are stubborn on evil always try to overpower the truth. Even today, the supporters of Yazid (the accursed) are following the footsteps of Shimr (the accursed).

Shimr is wretched

In vol. 1, p. 251, Khwarazmi narrates an incident from the eve of Aashura, Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and his companions were busy in worship and at mid-night Shimr Ibn Zil Jawshan (the accursed) along with his few companions approached the tents of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) as a spy and heard Imam Husain (peace be upon him) recite the following verse:

And let not those who disbelieve think that Our granting them respite is better for their souls; We grant them respite only that they may add to their sins; and they shall have a disgraceful chastisement. On no account will Allah leave the believers in the condition which you are in until He separates the evil from the good.

[Surah Aale Imraan (3): 178-179]

Upon hearing this, a companion of Shimr came forward and said – by the Lord of Kaaba, we are from the pure ones while you are from the evil and both of us are different. Burair Ibn Khuzair Hamdani interrupted and reprimanded him: O wretched one, O transgressor, O enemy of God, O son of the one who urinates from back (an Arabic idiom implying son of a woman who menstruates from the rear. Another meaning is son of the one who turned his back and flees while his urine spills out). You are pure while Husain (peace be upon him), the son of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) is not? By Allah you are an animal. You are speaking whatever you feel like. O enemy of Allah, I am informing you about the anguish and painful chastisement on the Day of Judgment. Then Shimr came forward and said: Certainly Allah will shortly annihilate you and your companions. Burair retorted: Are you scaring me of death? By Allah! I prefer dying with Husain (peace be upon him) than living with you. By Allah! The intercession of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and his progeny will not reach those who shed the blood of the Prophet’s progeny and his family members.

After this Imam Husain (peace be upon him) recounted the prophecy of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) which he had mentioned in his dream that a ‘Rajulun Abras’ (white-spotted man) will kill them. He was none other than the white-spotted Shimr, the accursed.

May Allah curse the killers of Imam Husain (peace be upon him) and those who support his killers.

O Allah! Include us among the prayers of Burair Hamdani and give us life and death with the Imam of our time with his love, mastership, grace and goodness.

August 31, 2020